Brussels based Ioana Banach, Deputy Director at the European Green Foundation, is a passionate European and a strong believer in the value of cooperation and gender equality. We had the pleasure to interview her on the role of women in European politics, the impact of networks like WIL Europe and much more!
What enticed your move to Brussels and what does your current job specifically entail? Why did you choose to work at a European level rather than on a local level?
I studied Political Science for my Bachelor (University of Bucharest and University of Warsaw) and EU Public Affairs for my Masters (University of Maastricht). I always had a keen interest in politics at the global and international level because I believe that societal issues related to topics such as as migration or climate change cannot be solved at a local and national level solely and that cooperation and open innovation at a European and global level is crucial.
While studying, I was involved for three years in a student-led project that was promoted by the United Nations: the 'Making Commitments Matter' project, which analysed the extent to which UN agreements were implemented at national level. It was through this experience that I realised what a powerful actor the EU is on the global arena. I decided to continue my academic formation with a Master in EU Public Affairs in Maastricht, and then the career path to Brussels was a very natural step to take.
I am now Deputy Director at the European Green Foundation (GEF), a European political foundation funded mostly by the European Parliament. It is linked to but independent of other European Green actors such as the European Green Party and the Green Group in the European Parliament. The main tasks of GEF are to contribute to the development of a European public sphere and to foster greater involvement of citizens in European politics. It works to create a common Green vision for Europe and to communicate it to the broader public.
There is less than a year to go to the EU Elections of 2019, in which EU citizens in 27 countries will vote to elect their representatives in the European Parliament and help decide who should lead the EU Commission. First-time voters usually abstain more than older voters, delegating their future to the older generation. How do you think we could counteract this issue?
The European elections will be taking place during a period of profound political and economic crisis and will shape EU politics for the next five years. Interestingly, what happened after the Brexit vote of June 23rd, 2016 is that, after a couple of decades of stagnant, rather ignorant sentiments towards the EU, people actually started to care. Whether supporters, critics or skeptics, citizens started to engage in debates about the future of the EU.
In many places, young Europeans are the most fervent in voicing their ideas about Europe. At the same time, they are also the ones who mistrust politics and institutions the most. So, while they definitely care and have an opinion, they might not believe that voting is the right avenue to voice their concerns.
So our job is to reconnect with citizens and discuss together how important their vote is, what they are voting for and what the EU actually is about. I am actively involved in promoting the role of the EU institutions not only here in Brussels but also in my country of origin, Romania, where we are experiencing a worrying political turmoil.
I am actively involved in promoting the role of the EU institutions
not only here in Brussels but also in my country of origin, Romania,
where we are experiencing a worrying political turmoil.
Women’s equality is directly linked to Europe’s overall well-being. Only by overcoming gender inequality can we indeed lay the foundations for our continent’s future. What are the main issues for women in EU politics?
In many EU countries, women are still vastly underrepresented in government. In the European Parliament, only one-third of elected MEPs are women and the female representation of women in the EU Parliament has increased by only 20% in the last 40 years. How can discuss policies affecting more than half of the population without this half being properly represented? We need to support women who might be inclined to choose a career in politics, if we want a fairer representation in parliament, both at a European level and a national level. This starts with what they hear at home, in schools, in fashion, advertising and media. It is unacceptable that in the year 2018 we still see such a backwards mentality: girls being educated to believe they can achieve less than boys; industries and fields of work which are completely women-unfriendly, huge pay-gaps between genders. Progress is being made, but in my personal view, not fast enough. We need to step-up our game.
We need to support women who might be inclined
to choose a career in politics, if we want a fairer representation in parliament,
both at a European level and a national level.
You are active in many organisations that support gender equality, and you are also a participant WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme. What role do organisations like WIL play?
Brussels in this sense is unique; there are roughly 50 women's movements here. Organisations such as WIL Europe which work on developing leadership skills and offers networking opportunities have long driven global and national action on women leadership. Women organisations are essential sources of knowledge on how to advance women's rights. In pushing for change and accountability, they develop leadership skills and transform political arenas. Through these networks, women can find support from their (more experienced) peers, and they can even identify mentors, which is not only useful, but sometimes absolutely necessary if they wish to attain a leadership position.
Organisations such as WIL Europe
which works on developing leadership skills
and offers networking opportunities
have driven global and national action on women leadership.
We at WIL have a tradition to conclude the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. We have picked the following one for you: Which living person do you most admire?
I have to say social activist and writer Gloria Steinem. She has been an inspiration for millions of women worldwide, she helped create the New York magazine in the 60s and was among the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus and the feminist Ms magazine. But most of all, she has this contagious charisma and a rebel spirit that mobilises so many of us to play our own small part in improving the society we live in.
To learn more about Ioana, read her biography!